This week we’ll be heading to the banks of the Arno. While this waterway famously courses through majestic Florence, Pisa is another thoroughly wonderful city built in its vicinity. Let’s explore.
When people mention Pisa, you probably immediately think of the famous leaning tower. But we reckon you should kick off your trip by meandering along Via Santa Maria, the city’s main street. Here you’ll discover a succession of homes and shopfronts as ornate as they are elegant. Make sure to drop by Piazza dei Cavalieri, hands down one of the most romantic spots in the city: the various palaces that fringe the square will blow any traveller away.
Once you’ve got a feel for the place, you better head to Piazza dei Miracoli to check out the leaning tower of Pisa, which somehow manages to look elegant despite drooping precipitously to one side. Clearly, it wasn’t supposed to end up this way: when builders began work on the structure in 1173, they hadn’t realised that the presence of groundwater nearby would inevitably cause the tower to lean. Thanks to various (occasionally wacky) projects, the tower hasn’t yet collapsed. Fingers crossed things stay that way.
The Piazza dei Miracoli doesn’t exist just to showcase the tower, though. There’s a whole host of masterful buildings worth checking out here. The Duomo really sums up this city’s distinctive architecture, the Battistero will delight you with its incredibly intricate façade (and out-of-this-world interior acoustics), and the Camposanto will make you want to pause for a little while as you contemplate the beauty of its cloister and frescoes.
Next, take some time out from the touristy parts of town and head over to the Left bank of Arno. This lesser-known side of the Tuscan city brims with architectural jewels like the Palazzo Blu and the Santa Maria della Spina church. The latter is no doubt the city’s most beautiful place of worship and owes its name to the fact it holds one of the thorns from Christ’s crown.
Then you should try to explore some of the city’s surroundings. Just half an hour from Pisa by train, the village of San Miniato offers a relaxing escape from the bustle of the city. Here too, though, you‘ll be blown away by the virtuosity of Tuscan builders. A very different kind of day trip is offered by the San Rossore regional park, with its 24,000 acres of dunes, lakes, rivers and other bird habitats dotted along the coast.
Tuscan food is famously brilliant, and so too is Pisa’s, specifically. To get an idea of what it’s like, head to the Piazza Vettovaglie, where you’ll find the city’s market. This is where locals go both to stock up on produce and to grab a glass of something at the surrounding bars. Get involved.
Here are a few more addresses you definitely need to hit up. For Tuscan aperitivi and excellent vini, try Cecco Rivolta or Il Maggazino, two buzzing natural wine bars that are ideal for a group trip. As for proper meals, head to Bistrot San Frediano for no-frills Italian classics, or La Gallina Nera for a decent mix of meat, fish and veggie dishes. For a truly unforgettable experience complete with Mediterranean views, La Cambusa in the heart of the Marina di Pisa.